NEW DELHI – There is a huge gap in the prices of ventilators purchased under the PM Cares Fund and two of the companies to whom an advance was released were later not recommended by the technical committee constituted under DGHS, revealed RTI response regarding the procurement of essential medical equipment with funds allocated through the PM Cares Fund.
According to India Today, the RTI has also brought into light that at least one such purchase order was given without the nod of the empowered group constituted to ensure availability of essential medical equipment, as it pre-dates the constitution of the group.
These responses came after RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj on June 18 this year had sought information regarding the details of hospitals run by the Centre which have been allocated money or have been supplied ventilators paid for through the PM Cares Fund, including the names of the hospitals. She also sought to know the total amount allocated from PM Cares Fund, total number of ventilators supplied and the number of ventilators that have been delivered and paid for by the Fund.
In its response on July 20, The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, said, “250 PM-Cares ventilators were given to DRDO COVID Hospital in Delhi and three have been provided to the All India Institute of Ayurveda, Delhi. No funds are being provided to hospitals for purchase of ventilators.”
#PMCaresFund website shows ₹2000 crore allocated for 50,000 ventilators. However RTI responses reveal that Ministry of Health placed orders from 6 companies of which 3 failed to clear clinical evaluations. Less than 18000 ventilators supplied till July 20 under the Fund. 5/n pic.twitter.com/y8hi7gz2pH
— Anjali Bhardwaj (@AnjaliB_) August 24, 2020
The ministry also said, “The Ministry and HLL had made purchase orders for 58,850 ‘Make in India’ ventilators. PM Cares is proving Rs 2,000 crore for the purchase of Make in India ventilators.” It provides the name of the companies, the purchase order quantity and the purchase order value. The reply further notes that the technical committee constituted under DGHS recommended only 3 of the 6 companies. It finally notes that 17,100 ventilators have been allocated to states/UTs.
However, the table containing the names of the companies, the purchase order quantity and the purchase order value provided in the RTI response show wide variation in the price of ventilators. For instance, as per the table, each ventilator from ‘Allied Medical’ company costs Rs 8.62 lakh, while those from ‘Agva Healthcare’ company cost Rs 1.66 lakh each.
“The details of the 17,100 ventilators allocated to the states and UTs, in terms of the names of the hospitals to which these were allocated, the number of ventilators allocated etc could not be located in the public domain,” Bhardwaj was quoted by India Today as saying.
In another RTI filed on June 18, 2020, Bhardwaj requested a copy of correspondence through which the views of the Department of Health and Family Welfare were sought on the supply of ventilators from the PM Cares Fund.
In response, a copy of the communication between the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the Health Ministry was provided. It was a letter dated May 18, 2020 from Bhaskar Khulbe (adviser to the Prime Minister), written to Secretary, MoHFW and a reply from Secretary, MoHFW dated May 20, 2020. The letter from Khulbe noted that the Health Ministry has already initiated the process of procurement of ventilators based on the recommendations of the empowered group constituted and requests a detailed proposal so that 50,000 ventilators can be financed through the PM Cares Fund.
It stated that the entire administrative process of purchase and deployment of these ventilators will be done by the ministry as per government norms of procurement. It also stated that manufacturers should be informed that the ventilators carry a distinct identity showing that they have been supplied from PM Cares fund and are also embedded with a GPS device. The response from the ministry provided a detailed statement containing the names of the companies, the purchase order quantity, the purchase order value and the advance released. It further noted that the purchase order of Rs 166 crore to a company was given prior to the constitution of the empowered group.
The table containing the names of the companies, the purchase order quantity and the purchase order value show a wide disparity in the pricing of ventilators. At least one purchase order was given without the nod of the empowered group as it pre-dated the constitution of the group.
“This RTI response shows that at least two of the companies — Jyoti CNV Automation & AMTZ Basic — to whom an advance was released and were later not recommended by the technical committee constituted under the DGHS,” Bhardwaj said.
As PM Narendra Modi announced the launch of the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund, or PM CARES, the announcement was met with instant criticism. Congress president Sonia Gandhi questioned the decision to set up a new body when there was already a relief fund in the form of the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF).
There have been demands since then for transferring the money collected in the PM Cares Fund to the PMNRF. Petitions were filed in the Supreme Court after the government did not take note of these objections.
Now, the Supreme Court has dismissed a petition seeking transfer of funds or merger of the PM Cares Fund with the PMNRF. This ruling formally upholds the separate identity of the PM Cares Fund. The Supreme Court has ruled that the central government has the freedom to decide the financial measures to be adopted to deal with Covid-19 pandemic.
Does PM Cares require audit by the Comptroller & Auditor General of India (CAG)?
Since it is a public charitable trust with voluntary donations and does not receive any government support, no CAG audit is required, the Supreme Court has ruled.
In case of NDRF, the guidelines issued by the central government as per DM Act specifically provide for audit of the NDRF by CAG.